About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Holy Thief by William Ryan

27. – 659.) The Holy Thief by William Ryan – Moscow in 1936 is a bustling, fast developing, dynamic city. At the same time every citizen is at risk of being denounced by every other citizen. The constant fear of the NKVD affects everyone. There is the risk of arrest each night. Stalin’s purges are ongoing.

Captain Alexi Korelev of the CID in the Militia, a decorated veteran of WW I and the Civil War and the Polish War, is investigating non-political crimes. He is a dedicated police officer and Communist who believes in the Revolution. He works diligently to capture real criminals.

The book is not for the faint of stomach. There is a brutal torture and mutilation of a young woman to open the book. Vicious is too tame a description for her killer. General Popov calls on Korelev to find the killer.

As the investigation begins Korolev is advised by Colonel Gregorin of the dreaded NKVD that the political police must be kept informed of each step of the investigation. Korolev carefully complies with the directive. He treads a treacherous path and is really a type of informer passing information to the NKVD on fellow citizens.

He learns that the murder may have something to do with holy items of the Russian Orthodox Church which have been confiscated by the new regime. The woman victim, originally from Russia, had moved to the U.S. and become a Russian Orthodox sister.

Personally, Ryan is grateful when the General arranges for Korolev to share an apartment with a woman and her young daughter. In crowded Moscow it is a luxury to only have 3 people in an apartment in central Moscow.

As Korelev investigates he becomes aware of the involvement of The Thieves (organized criminals). They are easily identified by their tattoos, especially the blue tattooed fingers from prison. There is a remarkable scene where Korelev effectively determines a Thief’s life story from his tattoos. I was not aware these career criminals were tolerated rather than eradicated in Stalinist Russia.

I gained some understanding why organized crime flourished in Russia after the collapse of Communism in the early 1990’s. They were always there. When civil authority weakened they were ready to take advantage.

Ryan skillfully draws together the threads of the plot driving to a convincing conclusion.

Korelev is a worthy predecessor to Leo Demidov of William Rob Smith and Arkady Renko of Martin Cruz Smith. Each of the trio is a dedicated real, rather than political, police officer in totalitarian Russia. I look forward to further Korolev investigations. (May 25/12)


  1. I enjoyed this book too Bill. I agree the opening scenes are graphic but sad too. I'm looking forward to reading 'The Bloody Meadow.

  2. Bill - I'm glad you enjoyed this. I agree that Ryan does an excellent job of drawing the threads of the plot together in this. And I think he portrays very effectively the paranoia that ruled the Moscow of that time. I like the Korolev character too. And I can recommend The Bloody Meadow/The Darkening Field. Just as taut a pace a solid a sense of context, and less gruesome.

  3. Thanks for the warning, Bill! I have heard very good things about this book, & enjoyed your review, but given the gruesome elements combined with the fact that I don't usually enjoy historical novels, I might not prioritise this one.

  4. Sarah: Thanks for the comment. The scene was so graphic I had not thought about how sad was the situation.

  5. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Is it paranoia when everyone may be out to get you? I am glad the next in the series is less gruesome.

  6. Maxine: Thanks for the comment. Given your thoughts I do not see a need for you to rush to read the book.